GOP strategists: Georgia results are a wake-up call – Politico

The official Republican message on Wednesday, one day after Georgia’s special election, was that it meant nothing. There is no cause to be alarmed by Democrat Jon Ossoff’s indisputably strong performance. Republican nominee Karen Handel is going to defeat him in the June runoff. There’s no reason to worry about the party’s standing going into the 2018 midterm elections.

Unofficially, however, there were plenty of Republican operatives who viewed last week’s Kansas special election and Tuesday’s contest in Georgia as a harbinger of tough times ahead — warning signs that congressional leaders would be crazy to ignore as they craft their legislative strategy for the months ahead.

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“I think we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t recognize that the Democratic anger is real,” said Glen Bolger, a longtime Republican pollster who co-founded the firm Public Opinion Strategies. “The biggest lesson is, guess what, we’re heading into a midterm where we control everything and it’s going to be tougher than when we were the out-party.”

Another Republican strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Georgia and Kansas races show that Democrats have “a ton of enthusiasm. They’re going to raise a ton of money.”

A few members of Congress were willing to go on record and admit that recent special election results were a bit unsettling. Republican Rep. Dave Brat, a member of the Freedom Caucus who has bucked GOP leaders on a number of issues, said the race was “a little bit of a wake-up call” for the GOP, which he said needed “to do policy and politics at the same time.”

Republicans, the Virginia congressman said, are busy “doing health care and tax policy and regulatory reform,” while Democrats, now that they are out of power, are focused “almost entirely on politics.”

Still, GOP leaders expressed only confidence on Wednesday following Ossoff’s performance despite the fact that his 48 percent result nearly met the 50 percent threshold necessary to win the Georgia seat outright — in a conservative-oriented House district that Republicans have held since 1979.

“Karen Handel will be an effective representative for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, like my good friends Tom Price and Newt Gingrich, and I’m looking forward to helping her win this election on June 20th,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.

Curt Anderson, a prominent Republican strategist, downplayed Democratic claims that the race signaled much about the 2018 election conditions.

“The last contested election in that district was won by Trump by a few points over Hillary,” he said. “Same thing happened here yesterday. Boring. A lot of fuss about nothing.”

He noted that Republicans also had nothing to fear from last week’s special election results in Kansas, where Republican Ron Estes defeated Democrat James Thompson by 7 percentage points in a district Trump carried in November by 27 points.

“These specials tend to portend exactly nothing about what is ahead of us,” Anderson said.

GOP strategist Carl Forti agreed, saying “special elections are called special for a reason. They’re unique.”

“Historically, there’s not much correlation between what happens in special elections and what happens in November,” Forti said. “We have no idea what the environment is going to be like in three months, much less 12.”

At the White House, press secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the idea that Republicans had anything to fear from the Georgia results.